Weather delays Costco construction

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Four years after developers announced a Costco Wholesale would be coming to Ridgeland, the store has yet to be built and the opening date has again been pushed back.

However, construction on the facility could soon pick up, with the completion of site work for the 150,000-square-foot facility, and with forecasters expecting drier weather in the coming weeks.

Officials say the much anticipated, yet highly controversial project has been hampered by numerous weather delays brought on by one of the wettest years in Mississippi history.

Whether or not two lawsuits challenging the project have any bearing on the delays remains up for debate. Mayor Gene McGee says no, while officials with Costco declined to comment when asked.

“Lawsuits complicate things, but they’re (the developers) are moving forward,” McGee said. “The investment is there and they’re moving forward.”

After announcing the store would open this spring, and then this summer, company officials now hope to welcome shoppers to the 150,000-square-foot facility in early 2020, according to Costco Senior Vice-President of Real Estate Dave Messner.

“The developer is responsible for preparing our site for both the warehouse and the fuel center,” Messner said. “He was delayed by rain.”

Messner wouldn’t say whether two pending lawsuits fighting the development were also hindering construction.

The project is being developed by Andrew Mattiace and H.C. Bailey and will be the anchor of the third phase of Renaissance at Colony Park.

It will be located on the south side of a 45-acre tract on Highland Colony Parkway, south of the Old Agency Road roundabout near Christ Life Church of the Highlands.

Site work began in 2018, during what became one of Mississippi’s wettest years on record.

The state received 75.72 inches of rain last year, making it the second wettest behind 1979. The average annual rainfall for the Magnolia State is around 56 inches, according to National Weather Service data.

This year started off much the same. Through last week, the state had received between 35 and 40 inches of rainfall.

McGee is disappointed the project has been delayed but said weather delays are a way of life when it comes to municipal government.

“Over the past 30 years, I’ve become used to that,” he said. “That’s just part of it, whether you’re building a road or a building. Weather can always complicate something.”

McGee, though, said site work on the project is completed, meaning the actual construction of the wholesaler could soon get under way.

And if weather cooperates, the store very well could open early next year. American Builders Quarterly reports that Costco stores go up in a relatively short time, with “new … warehouses open for business 110 days after the building pad is ready.”  

Meanwhile, the city and developers are embroiled in two lawsuits from residents hoping to stop the store’s construction on Highland Colony.

In May 2018, six residents filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court asking a judge to reverse a decision by the city that cleared the way for the Costco gas station to come to the parkway. The gas station is expected to be located on property across the street from the Costco, on property zoned C-3 commercial.

The suit represents the second time residents have appealed zoning changes that have impacted the Costco.

Initially, developers had hoped to build the gas station on the Costco site itself. The city amended its C-2 zoning ordinance to allow the station to be built there, as long as it was part of a “large master planned commercial development.” 

However, those amendments were struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court in the spring of 2018.

After those plans were scrapped, developers then decided to locate the gas station on C-3 property across from Costco proper. Under Ridgeland’s zoning ordinance, gas stations are permitted in C-3 areas.

That decision, too, is being fought in the court system, with residents alleging more chicanery on Ridgeland’s part.

The appeal was filed by Gerald Beard, Charles Michel, Nils Mungan, Harold Joseph Byrd, George Shepard Jr. and William Aden.

In this case, the six say the city illegally placed a moratorium on storage facilities specifically so the Costco gas station could locate there.

According to court records, in December 2017, Storage Park Properties filed an application with the city to build a StorageMax facility on C-3 property located across from the proposed Costco site. Records indicate that at the time, city officials gave no indication that they were opposed to the plans.

However, in February 2018, the board of aldermen adopted a moratorium on the construction of new storage facilities, and in early April, narrowly approved amendments to its C-3 zoning classification to prevent the structures.

Opponents say the moratorium was brought specifically to benefit the Costco and should be thrown out as a result.

The zoning decision was upheld by the Madison Circuit, and the case was transmitted to the supreme court on appeal. The case was still in the briefing phase last week.

In another case, Ridgeland Citizens for Responsible Development (RCRD) are planning to appeal a decision of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality granting permits for the development.

In May, the MDEQ permit board refused a request from opponents to pull the permits granted for the third phase of Renaissance.

The permits were needed because the development could impact a nearby navigable waterway and approximately 14 acres of wetlands.

Developers couldn’t be reached for comment.

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